Definitions Essay – Dale Hamstra

If someone asked you if you could walk in a straight line blind-folded the obvious answer would be yes, wouldn’t it? Well, if you said yes than you’re in for a surprise. It is actually impossible for us to stay on a straight path while blind-folded. Jan Souman, a German scientist, conducted an experiment to see if someone could walk in a straight line while blind-folded. He found that when the participant had no visual landmarks to work off of they ended up walking in circles, even though they thought that they were staying on a straight path.

But what exactly is a straight line? Well, according to the free dictionary, “a line…traveling in a constant direction” or” a line of zero curvature.” In other words, having zero deviation throughout the entirety of the trip. In Jan Souman’s large scale experiment, where people were told to walk for up to an hour in a wide open area, a straight line meant not going in circles and staying in relatively one direction. However, in my much smaller scale experiments, where the participants will walk across a gym or small park area, a straight line will be the shortest distance between two points. In other words, if the participant deviates at all from the designated start point to the designated end point it will not be considered a straight line.

In my experiment I will be measuring how far the participant deviates from their path. They will have a very specific end point and in order to hit it they will have to remain on a near perfectly straight path. After each trial it will be measured, in feet, how far they deviated from a straight line.

So far I have talked a lot about walking in a straight line, but what exactly is walking? According to the free dictionary it is “To move over a surface by taking steps with the feet at a pace slower than a run.” Walking is a type of controlled falling where you let your body fall but catch yourself with your leading leg. It can also be described as an “inverted pendulum” where we see the center of mass almost vault over the supporting leg. However, walking in itself is not perfect. Walking is a fluid motion where a lot of muscles have to make a lot of movements. Some of them are bound to make mistakes. If you are not blind-folded you could easily fix these errors and stay straight. However, once you are blind-folded fixing these mistakes doesn’t happen quite as often and you will veer off path. Even if you don’t have a blindfold on, if there is no clear visual landmark for you to work off of, i.e. the sun, you will veer of path just as easily.

If possible my experiment will be done indoors to avoid then sun piercing through the blindfold and acting as a visual landmark. If this is not possible then I will attempt to do my research on a cloudy day, or account for the sun in the results. The definition of walking noted above will be the same I will be using in my tests, a slow controlled movement over a surface.

In my experiment I will be using sounds in an attempt to replace the visual aid that is needed to stay straight. However, I will only be using distinct sounds, such as an alarm beeping. The sounds I will use will be as clear and distinct as possible in an attempt to set it apart from any background or white noise. I will do multiple trials on each participant with the noise coming from a different area to see how it influences their walking. With about half of the participants I will tell them where the noise is coming from, i.e. straight ahead, to their left/right, or behind them, and see how their walking path is influenced.

Works Cited

F. Lacquaniti, R. Grasso, M. Zago. Motor Patterns in Walking. August 1999. 7 March 2012.

Krulwich, Robert. A Mystery: Why Can’t we Walk Straight. 7 march 2012.

The free dictionary. 7 march 2012.

The Free Dictionary. 7 March 2012.

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5 Responses to Definitions Essay – Dale Hamstra

  1. dalehamstra27 says:

    Professor, I had some trouble actually reaching 1000 words with this paper, I’m only at about 700 right now. I’m not exactly sure how to lengthen my paper

  2. dalehamstra27 says:

    Can I please have some feedback on my essay? Thank you

  3. davidbdale says:

    Sure thing, Dale.

    First about the length. Before I even read your essay, I will predict you haven’t begun to exhaust the narrow topic of what it means to walk a straight line blindfolded. In addition, glancing at your sources on the way by, I further predict that you haven’t used as many sources as you need to develop this simple idea. So, before reading I will advise you to look at the question from a few viewpoints and research the questions that result. The more material you read on various aspects of your question, the more trouble you’ll have fitting the results into 1,000 words. I’ll return after reading.

  4. davidbdale says:

    One more thing. I’ll be disappointed if you ran no tests before this paper, since even a bit of experimental data on how straight a line a subject can walk over a distance of just 100 feet would have given you easily 1000 words of material. If you did run tests, I’ll help you with that. If you didn’t, you’ll have ignored a piece of advice that could have solved your problem easily in advance.

  5. davidbdale says:

    OK, I’m back. Thanks, Dale. That was fun. I love the idea that an academic paper tries to define “walking,” and “a straight line.” I appreciate your playing along in this exercise.

    Some recommendations:

    • If you consult a dictionary, and even if you share a quote from it, the citation doesn’t count as academic research and doesn’t need to be in your Works Cited. The in-text citation you provided is plenty.
    • Once you define “zero curvature,” you’ve set an impossible standard, which you then modify to suit the needs of various experiments, without making it clear that a “straight line” is whatever we all agree it is for a particular purpose.
    • You, the dictionary, and Souman, have different definitions. Why?
    • Are you sure you mean what you say about your own experiment? “deviates at all” is a very tough standard for a person to meet with his eyes open!
    • It’s not at all clear that a subject needs to walk straight to reach your target. A snaky path could get them there just as surely.
    • Identify the purpose of your shorter experiment. Do you mean to extrapolate how far off-course subjects would go if their small deviations over the first 100 feet continued for an hour?
    • Your definition of walking is pretty much beside the point of the experiment. We don’t so much want to know whether people can walk as whether they can navigate without landmarks.
    • That said, you don’t cite the mechanics of walking article at all. Does it tell you nothing about whether we sense the “small mistakes” and correct for them as we walk? Are we likely to be more or less aware of them without sight?
    • Today’s a good day to experiment outdoors, very overcast. The sun is not a landmark at all.
    • So, if “walking a straight line” is more about navigating than controlled falling, where’s your explanation for how we might navigate without vision?
    • One way in which the mechanics of walking could skew the results is the terrain. Especially blindfolded, wouldn’t we tend to steer in part by feel? Uneven or sloped ground could make a big difference. (Not your indoor arena though.)

    Avoid opening your essays with rhetorical questions, Dale. (Avoid them altogether, but particularly as openers.) Substitute a positive statement that achieves the same purpose but without inviting your readers to give you the wrong answer, thereby derailing your argument before you even get started.

    For example:
    “Anybody who’s ever played Pin the Tail on the Donkey knows how comically inept we are at walking a straight line blindfolded after we’ve been spun until dizzy. Surprisingly though, even without the spinning, it appears to be impossible for human beings to walk a straight line without seeing where they’re going.” See what I mean? Just as effective at communicating the surprise, but with a vivid example you provide, and much harder to argue with than your challenging question.

    Is any of this helpful, Dale? Feel free to comment back. We can have as much of an exchange here as you like.

    If you think you’ll incorporate feedback into your revisions, do re-publish your rewrite in a new post with Revised in the title so you can move both versions into your portfolio.

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